Ruth Barrett Phelps accomplished a number of significant milestones in her career. The first woman to be a permanent organist at The Mother Church in Boston, she served for 27 years, from 1934 to 1961. That makes her the longest serving person in that role to date. Presiding over the famous 1952 Aeolian Skinner organ—one of the world’s most acclaimed—she contributed in significant ways to its design, gracing The Mother Church Extension. In this episode, we’ll learn more about her work and legacy. Our guests include Claire DeCusati of the Boston Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO); Bryan Ashley, current permanent organist for The Mother Church; and Allyson Lazar, author of a Library website article on Phelps.
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Claire DeCusati has been “bi-vocational” during her career. She worked in systems engineering and project management for IBM, retiring after 30 years of service as a global project executive. During that same time she also served churches in Washington DC, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, as minister of music, organist, choir director, and bell choir director. She holds a certificate in sacred music from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has been a member of the Boston Chapter of the AGO since 2003. Her service to that chapter has included work as auditor, election coordinator, member-at-large, and webmaster. Her current interest is in that chapter’s history, and she now serves as interim organist for various churches in the Boston area.
Bryan Ashley holds bachelor’s and master of music degrees in organ performance, as well as a Prix d’Excellence from France and a Soloist Diploma from Germany. His career as a concert organist was definitively launched in 1988, when he won the First International Organ Competition, Musashino-Tokyo, Japan. Throughout his career he has been active as a recitalist, church musician, and teacher, including four years as an organ instructor at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He has been serving as Organist of The Mother Church since 2009 and has recorded two CDs on The Mother Church organ, titled Glorious and Majestic.
Allyson Lazar comes to the Library with a background in the museum field. As Senior Manager of Research and Collections, she has the pleasure of engaging with archivists, records managers, researchers, editors, transcribers, transcription verifiers, encoders, and digital historians—all working to manage and provide access to a rich archival collection. She is also the author of an article in the Library’s “Women of History” series on Ruth Barrett Phelps.